The EPF Chapter of the Southern Tier in Ithaca, New York, has organized two cooperative peace-centered events with the Episcopal Chaplaincy at Cornell University in the last several years. The events featured a home-cooked supper (“if you feed them they will come”) immediately following the 5 pm Sunday Eucharist, with the opportunity to then view and discuss a DVD on a topic of genuine interest to all.
We began our planning after noticing a gap between ‘town and gown’ at events like Peace Vigils and organized anti-war demonstrations in Ithaca. Where were the students, we wondered, in a small city with two major institutions of higher learning, Cornell and Ithaca College? As we talked, we decided one way to bridge the gap was to take our concerns for nonviolence to the busy students, rather than waiting for them to come downtown to us. Our goal was to begin a relationship, through the campus chaplaincy at Cornell, with Episcopal students and see what might happen.
WHO CAN BENEFIT
The project strengthens the Chapter, builds relationships between town and gown, and assists the Chaplaincy in its ministry for and with students.
SUPPLIES YOU MAY NEED
Our Chapter organized the preparation and transport of a meal, to be served in a facility without a kitchen or dining space — the event was held in one large room. We took responsibility for carrying in video and audio equipment, screen, cords, etc., as well as the chosen DVDs : 1) “The Bible Tells Me So,” featuring Bp. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire and other Episcopal voices exploring with honesty and sensitivity the issue of homosexuality and inclusion in the church; 2) “Rethinking Afghanistan,” a critical look at U.S. military actions in that nation. We also distributed EPF brochures, copies of Episcopal Peace Witness and membership information.
COST ESTIMATE: Chapter members absorbed the costs of the meal.
NUTS & BOLTS
Step #1 : Link Up with the Chaplain
Once we had a rough plan in place, we approached the Chaplaincy. Our first event involved an Interim Chaplain, our second event involved a newly-installed Chaplain. We learned that there are important questions to consider, after the initial enthusiastic response to our plan. Promising to bring in a program, with a meal, will rarely be turned down! Talk about outcomes: what does each group hope to accomplish with the event? When is the best time in the semester’s calendar to attempt it? How will the event be “talked up” or advertised among the student congregation so that they can set aside time to attend? Who will lead the conversation after the DVD? Will there be follow-up with the students? If so, what and how? All of these have turned out to be important considerations.
Step #2 : Attention to Details
Once a date is selected and cooperation between the two groups is established, it’s time to focus on details. Depending on your plans, details will vary. At our first event, we agreed to preface the DVD with a talk about EPF; at the second event, one of our members was asked to preach during the worship service. This, also, required planning with respect to materials for hand-outs and message. Sometimes an additional speaker might seem appropriate for the discussion after the DVD. We asked a member of the group, Veterans for Peace, to be present for viewing and discussing “Rethinking Afghanistan.” We believe this participant brought a perspective that noone in our Chapter could offer.
We have discovered that each event has an atmosphere of its own. The DVD “The Bible Tells Me So” brought together so many interested people, not just students, that there were not enough chairs. The conversation had to be closed down prematurely because our rights to that particular room expired at 9 pm. Our second experience was a sharp contrast. Very few students stayed to talk about the war in Afghanistan after the DVD; was it the difficult topic, the wrong choice of date, a lack of preparation? We’re not sure. The EPFers and those who did stay to talk together, including the Chaplain and a number of non-students adults who worship there regularly, had a rich conversation with the representative of Veterans for Peace. If it is possible, engage in follow-up with the Chaplain, whether face-to-face or just an email exchange. Cement the relationship and lay the groundwork for future events by discussing what we did right and what we could improve. In our Chapter, we already are batting around ideas of what we’d like to offer the next time!
The Chapter of the Southern Tier, Ithaca, New York
Nancy Siemen, chair
contact info: [email protected]